Today is opening night of Miami Dade College’s 32nd Annual Miami International Film Festival, and this year the festival seems to be asking cinephiles to bring their curiosity. Last year, the festival had many big names. This year, not so much. Last year also featured an emphasis on local filmmakers, and this year there is even more emphasis on local filmmakers with a section called “Florida Focus.” The festival is also shining its spotlight on our neighbors in Cuba with its “Emerging Cuban Program.” Cuban filmmakers are being held in such high regard this year that they will be bestowed with this year’s career tribute award, instead of a celebrity, which is the usual routine (last year it was John Turturro).
However, there will be one icon of the film world who the festival will celebrate: Orson Welles. The legendary director/writer/actor graces this year’s poster — a rare shot of him on Miami Beach — on the year of what would have been his 100th birthday. The Miami Beach Cinematheque kicked off the retrospective yesterday with The Lady From Shanghai, and will continue to present a mix of classics and rarities for the month of March. The festival is also using the Bill Cosford Cinema as a venue for this year’s “From the Vault” series, presenting Welles’ rarely seen The Stranger on Saturday with an introduction by film scholar Scott Eyman.
But, for the most part, the festival is asking viewers to be adventurous. There are focuses on French cinema and Asian cinema featuring lesser-known directors or directors early in developing their careers. I have only previewed a few films but none, so far, have blown me away. Some have had clear narrative issues, like Everybody Leaves, a Colombian film that was shot in Cuba with Cuban actors about a little girl in the middle of a custody fight between her mother and father, which could not decide if it’s tone was precious or brutal. However, I cannot judge the festival on these few films alone. There is so much more to see.
On paper, the films that are really standing out are the documentaries. I have only seen Architecture of Color, a film about the Brazilian painter Beatriz Milhazes. It’s a wonderful examination of how one of the world’s most important women painters works. There are many potentially great documentary films premiering at the festival. Fresh out of it’s Sundance premiere, we will get the Florida premiere of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which has been getting rave reviews. Music is a big part of the documentaries. There’s the world premiere of The Record Man, about Henry K. Stone, a key figure of the ’70s era disco scene in Miami. Sweet Micky for President examines the rise of Michel Martelly, aka Sweet Micky, from beloved Haitian pop star to presidential candidate for Haiti.
There are also a pair of Miami-produced documentaries of note including the return of Billy Corben to the festival with Dawg Fight. It looks like another vicious subject for the documentary filmmaker but also seems to offer an empathetic examination of the hopelessness of some of Miami-Dade County’s communities. These are young men hoping to find their way to some sort of prosperity by street fighting, after all. Speaking of desperate measures involving the sacrifice of one’s body, there’s also Hot Girls Wanted by former “Miami Herald” journalists Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus. Their film follows a 19-year-old girl as she enters the amateur porn industry.
Another overview I wrote about the film festival can be found in “Pure Honey,” where I spoke to festival executive director Jaie Laplante. You can read more about some of the other movies playing (there are 125), including some of Laplante’s personal recommendations by jumping through the “Pure Honey” logo below:
My first of more specific articles about the festival and its films appeared yesterday on the art and culture blog “Cultist” of “the Miami New Times.” It’s a conversation with actress Paz Vega mostly on her role in The Pilgrim: The Best Story of Paulo Coelho, a movie scheduled to have it’s international premiere at the festival this Saturday. The film is about the pre-fame years of one of the most popular international writers in the world.
More articles will come during this week, including reviews and interviews. Finally, on a personal note, I have been asked to be on the jury for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award. I will not be writing about any of these movies. You can see the films I have to judge here. I will be deliberating the merits of screenplays by first-time screenwriters with two other jurors, the owner of Miami’s local bookstore chain Books & Books, Mitchell Kaplan, and a principal at the Tilia Family of Companies, Gary Ressler (The brother of the award’s namesake, and I read he once worked at Disney Studios). You can read more about all of this year’s jurors here.
One more note, at 12:40 p.m. I will be on Miami’s NPR affiliate WLRN to talk more about the festival, including what I have seen and what I plan to see and what others should see. You can tune-in online here (there’s a “listen live” button in your upper left corner of that page) or listen to it on the radio at 91.3 FM.